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Strange Creatures of Planet India

So, who are you? Or, what?

Are you a Congi? A CRT? Perhaps a pseudo-secular Indian. Or an Internet Hindu. Or a right winger. A Hindu nationalist (dwelling outside India?).

These are some of the gems that one comes across as the frenetic debate rages in this country about the direction we wish to take.

Clearly, India is 'resurgent.' India is not the first nation in the history of the world where people suddenly acquire a heightened sense about who they are just on the basis of their imagined or real history. History is fact -> except when it's entirely fiction that people want to believe.

Nationalistic pride has not been a positive force in world history - just think of Japan, Italy and Germany in the 20th century. A sense of superiority based on notions of nationality, race, or religion makes people blind to reason and facts. Yet in the 21st century, despite the world wars and the Rwandan and Balkan genocides of the '90s, we are again seeing resurgent nationalism and tension between China and Japan over a few insignificant, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

The resurgent Hindu typically loves to hate the Congress and its leaders such as Indira, Rajiv, Nehru, etc. There are variations -> many love Patel as the 'strongman' who should have been 'rightly' appointed the first prime minister of India who then would have proceeded to do wonders. Some 'hate' Gandhi too for his 'scheming' in appointing Nehru and depriving Patel of his deserved premiership.

65 years after independence, we still have the Gandhis ruling by proxy. A sad state of affairs in a democracy. So people still vote for the Congress. Why? They voted for the BJP in 1998 but then took away their favors much to the shock of many in 2004. May be people of India are dumb who are easy to be swayed by the 'garibi hatao' kind of nonsense from the Congress rather then the 'India Shining' and golden quadrilateral messages of the BJP.

It's nobody's case that a democracy should be ruled by members of one family like a royalty. Party leaders should not be anointed because of their last names. But the 'custom' where power passes from one generation to the next or to the spouse upon someone's death seems to be prevalent in multiple countries in South Asia. It's definitely un-democratic. Curiously, last names seem to have been advantageous to politicians even in developed nations such as the U.S.

What's disappointing to see is the alternative that seems to be on offer. At the level of the states, the voters seem to show a very obvious preference for caste-based politics and other kinds of identity politics. Politicians of the worst kind seem to recognize these realities and then proceed to heighten rather than dampen those tribal mentalities. It's a massive failure of the political class -- which is amply substantiated by the growing number of criminals and corrupt businessmen in the various legislatures.

At the pan-Indian level, there seems to be a peculiar development happening. The economic growth of the last two decades have created a class of semi-rich people who have some English knowledge and perhaps own cars. They have benefited from the integration of the Indian economy with the global economy. Clearly, the little wealth that has come the way of this Indian middle-class is because of the fact that Indian IT professionals and MBAs and others are able to provide various services at a much lower cost than Americans or Europeans or the Japanese.

The entire 'story' of the success of Infosys, Wipro, TCS, and the rest of the IT sector is that whereas IT professionals in America would expect a 'starting' salary of $50,000 per annum fresh out of college (if not more than $50,000), Indian IT professionals would typically be jumping to the high heavens if they get a starting salary one-fifth as much. Whereas, a professor in a top university like Harvard typically has a salary of $200,000 per annum and often makes more than half a million dollars if not more than a million with various other sources of income such as consulting, writing books, paid speaking gigs, etc. Comparatively, an Indian professor would be considered filthy rich if he or she made $50,000 per annum when he or she is at the peak of his or her career or near retirement or whenever. The average senior lawyer -- known as a partner -- working in a law firm in Silicon Valley or Manhattan makes a million dollars or more per annum.

India, in short, is nowhere near the level of affluence enjoyed by people in the U.S. or Europe.

But the newly rich Indians are impatient for some sort of a pseudo-revolution. They fulminate about the corruption of the Congress-led government at the center without much thought given to the alternatives. I am not here to defend the shameless and corrupt ministers belonging to the Congress party or its allies. However, I like to mull a little about the alternative that will surely be a reality in 2014 if not before.

Do we want opportunistic (and worse) regional satraps like Mulayam or Mayawati being the prime minister of India or supporting some government at the center which they can blackmail at will? May be Sushma Swaraj will be the prime minister or Arun Jaitley. Well and good. Perhaps they will deign to interact more with the ordinary citizens of India -- if only though the media. Better than the current prime minister for sure. The current incumbent Manmohan Singh takes his file-pushing and policy-making responsibilities too seriously at the expense of providing 'visible' leadership to a nation of 1.22 billion people. This perhaps could have been predicted as he has been a bureaucrat most of his life.

Let's look at the depth of leadership within the BJP. After the two persons already named, there are the two similarly named leaders: Jaswant and Yashwant. Mr. Advani is there too if he wants to play an active role. And then? Surely, no one is hyperventilating with excitement about seeing Ravi Shankar Prasad or Rajiv Pratap Ruddy or Shahnawaz Hussein as ministers. It'll be good riddance to Renuka Choudhury and Jayanti Natarajn but I am not looking forward to, say, Uma Bharati.

So leaving aside the individuals, what should be apparent to educated people is that what is needed in India are strong and effective institutions -> for instance, if Indians are 'prone' to be corrupt, then, hell, let's make the judicial process faster so that particularly heinous cases such as 2G or Commonwealth or fodder are brought to a conclusion in two years rather than 20. Let's make the punishments more stringent. I am in favor of death punishment for the seriously corrupt politicians, businessmen, police officers, bureaucrats, etc. Indian society can manage without these gentlemen -- no need to get pious or mourn their loss.

I know that this is unlikely. All you need to know as evidence is the fact that the Congress gets nearly 2,000 crores annually as donations which are made mostly by cash. The BJP gets nearly half of that. Then there are other parties too. So who contributes that kind of money to these parties? Mr. Ratan Tata had proposed bringing in transparency by making donations through cheques. That proposal went nowhere. Clearly, both the receivers and the payers want no accountability. Why would I -- as a businessman -- want to pay crores in cash to a political party but won't want to do so by cheque? Because I am doing it as part of a quid pro quo. I am hiding my tax liabilities. I have got black money. I want to help the politicians and want to be helped in return.

This is the noxious cycle that needs to be broken. Merely a strong Lokpal, which was the focus of Anna Hazare and now of his heir Arvind Kejriwal, I'm afraid, won't do much to remove the cancer of corruption from India.
It's simple really, isn't it? As long as temptations exist, Indians will be tempted. As long as opportunities exist, Indians will take advantage of those opportunities. After all, life is hard in India. You can't really blame a guy for making some 'extra' money to pay for his kids' education at a costly university in the U.S., can you?
Even the religion of Hinduism lets you be corrupt -- as long as you perform your quota of pujas in the morning or just go take a dip in the Ganga or some other river once in a while or visit Vaishno Devi or any of the proliferating godmen of India or the numerous temples. Well, let's just say, per Hinduism, it's quite easy to have a clear conscience while being corrupt.
More broadly, I'm not too hopeful about systemic changes happening any time soon in India. What does the future hold for us? Misery for sure. The only question is whether we'll have misery that will be counted in tens of millions of deaths or just thousands. In India, more than a hundred thousand die on the roads every year. That's is not even news. It's quite okay in a nation of 1.2 billion people. Let's see if we progress to inter-state water wars or civil wars or a partition or wholesale disintegration of India to 30 states.
The solutions, if they happen, will be discovered and invented outside of India. Hearing Peter Diamandis or Ray Kurzweil certainly makes one hopeful that the future will be one of plenty and not of shortages. Science & technology certainly makes one feel optimistic about the future. May be we will escape unhurt through the looming environmental crisis, the melting of the glaciers everywhere, the rising CO2 and sea levels.
I wish India and Indians would be contributors in the revolutions happening right now -- in developing new and renewable sources of energy and creating working fusion reactors and sending manned missions to Mars. I wish we will stop looking back to the Bhagwat Gita or claiming that our 'ancient' people knew all the stuff that modern science is discovering just now. You will notice, if you are skeptical and incisive enough, that all this talk of 'ancient' wisdom is pure bullshit with no depth whatsoever. We are making progress everyday thanks to modern science and technology and lives are improving and being saved because of the abilities of modern medical science.
It's not merely stupid to take cancer medications and then worship flying monkeys and other  malformed gods of Hinduism and say that you survived thanks to god. You can do a simple experiment. When you get cancer or have a fractured arm or leg, you can simply go to a godmen and visit temples but don't make a trip to the hospital. The result of such an experiment will make things quite plain to you and everyone else.


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